One of the first things we are taught as children is that we have five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. Our feline friends have the same senses, yet they are vastly different from ours. Cats’ senses are designed in such a manner that they enable them to be masters at hunting, especially in the dark – whereas we humans do not need night-time hunting skills. We decided to take a look at exactly how much the senses differ between humans and felines.
Those pointy ears are more than just decoration, as cats have exceptional hearing. Not only can they hear high-frequency sounds that we can’t, but they are also superior in distinguishing between the tone and pitch of sounds. The outer ear of the cat, called the pinna, has 32 muscles that allow it to move 180 degrees. Therefore cats can hear sounds coming from all directions. Cats are also great at distinguishing between sounds from different sources – this is why she knows exactly when you open the cupboard where you keep her food!
With around 200 million scent-receptive cells in their noses, cats are extremely sensitive to smells. They also have an organ in the roofs of their mouths called the Jacobson’s organ, which assists in making their smell even sharper via a behaviour called the flehmen response. Ever seen your cat pull a rather funny face, scrunching up her nose with her lips pulled back? That might’ve been her using the flehmen response to further investigate something interesting she smelled. Cats use their sense of smell not only to determine whether they approve of their food, but also for communication.
Cats will pass an eye test with flying colours. Dilating their pupils allows them to see things in a panoramic view, and they also boast above-average peripheral vision, enabling them to spot movement in a wide range. You might wonder about those occasions when you put down a treat right in front of your cat – and she just stares at you blankly. Actually, she simply can’t see it, as cats have a blind spot about 10cm in front of their faces.
With only 475 taste buds to rely on, cats experience the flavour of their food mostly with their sense of smell. Also, as carnivores, cats’ taste receptors are designed to favour the tastes of protein and fat, and they have trouble tasting sweet and salty foods. The tongue is not useless though. As it is covered in papillae that give the cat’s tongue its rough texture, the cat uses this organ to scrape meat off her prey’s bones as well as for grooming.
The cat’s sense of touch is mostly located in her whiskers. These are almost three times thicker and rooted three times deeper into the cat’s skin than normal hair. The cat has whiskers all over her face as well as on the back of the front legs. Equipped with sensory cells, whiskers are extremely sensitive and can even detect changes in air currents. This doesn’t mean that the rest of your cat is numb! If you lightly touch your cat’s fur while she is sleeping, she will most likely wake up and give you a nasty look. This is because her fur has nerve endings that can detect the slightest touch.
While the human ear isn’t nearly as cute as that of a cat, it is also not really that effective. When it comes to lower sounds, humans and cats have a similar range of hearing, but cats are able to hear sounds with a much higher pitch. Cats can hear up to 64kHz, which is about 1.6 octaves higher than what a human can hear.
While cats have around 200 million odour-sensitive smell receptors in their nostrils, humans only have a measly five million. Our sense of smell isn’t too dismal though, and we can still distinguish between thousands of smells. Like with cats, our noses help us to enjoy our food. The taste buds on our tongues can only distinguish between sweet, sour, bitter and salt, while other flavours are picked up by olfactory receptors high up in our nostrils. This explains why food doesn’t taste quite the same when you have a blocked nose.
Cats have better peripheral vision than we have, but we can see a wider range of colours. Humans are also better than cats when it comes to seeing things that are farther away. Cats can, however, see much better than us in the dark.
With cats having fewer than 500 taste buds and humans boasting around 9,000, humans win this round! We do use our noses in experiencing flavours, but we have a well-developed sense of taste that allows us to enjoy a remarkable number of flavours.
Cats use their whiskers to navigate their way through life. The human sense of touch works through the skin, which is our largest organ. Our sense of touch helps us to experience pain, pressure and temperature, without which we would be lost – just like a cat without her whiskers!